Neil Lennon has hailed the “phenomenal” achievements of Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell, who will retire from the post this summer.
The 61-year-old will step down at the end of June after overseeing a 17-year period of huge success that has seen the Hoops win 29 trophies, including 13 league titles and an unprecedented four successive domestic trebles.
Ahead of the Scottish Premiership match against St Mirren on Saturday, Parkhead boss Lennon addressed Lawwell’s impending departure.
“He has had a huge influence in a positive way for the club over a 17-year reign,” said the Northern Irishman, who stated that it was “not the case” that Preston defender Ben Davies had signed a pre-contract for the reigning champions.
“He’s been brilliant to work for. We have had our fall-outs over the piece but he has had a huge positive influence on my career and many others.
“The success the club has had during his reign has been absolutely phenomenal.
“I am sad to see him go but 17 years is a huge amount of time for a job as pressurised as that.
“You need a thick skin to do my job or Peter’s job and he has certainly developed that over the years. He is a brilliant negotiator, very shrewd and forward thinking CEO.
“He has been one of the best in British football. He will be a big miss, no question of that.”
Despite all the success Celtic have enjoyed during his tenure, Lawwell is a divisive figure among the fans.
This season there have been calls for boardroom and managerial change as the club have been knocked out of Europe and the Betfred Cup, while the quest for a record 10th successive title, a holy grail for many supporters, has collapsed.
Lennon’s side have fallen 23 points behind leaders Rangers with three games in hand.
The Celtic manager said: “Everyone wanted to win the title this season, as is the case every season.
“Whether we had won the league or not, he probably would have left at the end of the season anyway. He is sad about the way things have panned out this season, as we all are.
“But when he takes a bit of time and reflects on things he can look back on it with a lot of pride.
“Peter shouldn’t bear the brunt of this season on his own, it is a collective responsibility. We still have a lot to play for between now and the end of the season.
“I can’t speak for fans and how they perceive other people’s records at the club.
“What I do know that in a very high-pressured job, he fought and won a lot of battles for the club, and on and off the field the club has made enormous strides in 17 years.
“He knew he had to make decisions that would not be popular, but the overriding theory was it was the best thing for the club at all times.”
Lennon looks forward to meeting his new boss Dominic McKay, who will take over from Lawwell in June.
The former Celtic captain said: “I haven’t had dialogue with him.
“I only became aware of it this morning so maybe in time over the next few months I will get to meet him or get to talk to him.
“I think it is an exciting new chapter for him, a great challenge for him and he will get huge amounts of support from people at the club.”